Visiting Artist | August 25 - September 8, 2017
Alice Sheppard, who joined the AXIS Dance Company in residence as a company member in 2007, returned to MANCC in 2017 to further develop her own work titled DESCENT, which then premiered on September 29, 2017 at the Britt Festival in Medford, Oregon.
DESCENT is an evening-length dance work that re-tells the story of Rodin’s Venus and Andromeda. Featuring a unique, architectural stage that acts as a partner in the choreography and storytelling, DESCENT questions norms and assumptions around movement that many find "aesthetically pleasing or proper" in dance, as it challenges western and heteronormative conceptions of beauty, and shows the artistic potential for integrating accessibility into the creative process.
DESCENT explores the experience known to all users of wheels: the raw pleasure of flying free down a slope. At MANCC, disabled dancers Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson continued to push the limits of their training and developed movement to be performed on the ramped stage with an eye toward showing what disability and disabled movement contribute to dance. Michael Maag, disabled lighting and video artist, joined the residency, focusing on the creation of a multi-sensory experience that reveals the power of disability in dance.
For this residency, Alice brought the entire team together for the first time to finalize the choreography and technical design elements. Sheppard opened the rehearsal room to members of the FSU and local Tallahassee communities to observe daily run-throughs of the piece, and invited those in attendance to share their experience of the work.
Digital Scholarship Technologist Matthew Hunter assisted in the creation of a 3D printed model of the work’s architectural set design at FSU’s Office of Digital Research and Scholarship in Strozier Library. Five engineering students from Georgia Institute of Technology also visited Sheppard’s team during the residency to study the ramp, and imagine ways of redesigning it for greater touring capacity. This residency marked the first time the ramp had been fully broken down at one site and reinstalled at another, MANCC, a logistical feat necessary in touring the work.
The residency culminated in a public work-in-progress showing. The audience for the showing represented many disparate communities with links to the work including, members of the local disabled community, disability rights advocates, members of the Tallahassee Rollergirls team, and FSU students and faculty from dance, classics, engineering, technical theater production, art education and performance theory. Following the September 29th premiere at the Britt Festival, Sheppard checked in with FSU School of Dance students, joining VIsiting Faculty Millicent Johnnie’s Intro to the Dance Professions class on November 7th, sharing her insights from the road as the work continues to evolve.
Sheppard also invited two writers into residence to further an emerging conversation about how to language disability and dance. For two days, Dr. Carrie Sandahl, the head of the Program on Disability Art, Culture, and Humanities at University of Illinois, Chicago, and Jerron Herman, a disabled dance artist, writer, and performer with New York City-based Heidi Latsky Dance Company, observed Sheppard’s choreographic process and developed and divided tasks to pursue future writing projects related to the residency.
Since 2015, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, MANCC has piloted an endeavor to embed writers with selected resident artists to support the thoughtful articulation of their creative process, finished work and oeuvre in the public realm. This early initiative embraces a longer-term goal of creating strong, contextualized materials for the artist and their audiences to help foster a deeper engagement and conversation with challenging ideas made manifest in contemporary work.
Collaborators in Residence: Laurel Lawson [Dancer], Michael Maag [Lighting and Video Designer], Joseph Futral [Technical Director], Lisa Niedermeyer [Performance Coach], Carrie Sandahl and Jerron Herman [Writers].